Do you know how to pick out fish from the market? Do you even buy fish?

I was recently sitting around the dinner table with friends and we were discussing fish and how asian cultures fight over who gets to eat the fish eyes and camp out at their local fish monger to get 1st dibs on the fish heads.  And we also discussed about how ones Sicilian grandma used to know a good fish by how its liver felt or how its eyes were glazed.  And how now his mom (his grandmothers daughter) can just barely pick out the freshest whole fish, having lost that knowledge from her mother on how to judge a fish by its gallbladder.

Being American, I was fascinated by this discussion. Most of us go to the shop to buy filets. Or frozen breaded packaged stuff. If we even eat the stuff at all. As much as I love food and want to deepen my relationship with it by gardening and cooking from scratch, fish intimidates me. As I suspect for most people. The only fish I know how to prepare well is salmon, and that’s because it is from my culture being from the Pacific Northwest where salmon defines our culinary identity.

My mom taught me how to buy salmon whole. How to cook it, skin it and de-bone it. This is a small beginning to American gastronomic heritage. This is what I fear we are loosing, all over the world. Gastronomic heritage.

I don’t know how to shop for good fish, and there should not be a manual. This post is not a series of top ten tips or even the 7 things you must know about fresh fish. What I think people need to do is to talk to people. Talk to your grandma or grandpa. Meet your fish monger. Find the nearest fishing terminal/port. Get to know your favorite restaurant staff. Hell, even talk to the barman at your local fisherman’s pub. These things in gastronomic heritage are things we must pass down by story telling. We must pass down through our relationships, not with some sterile blog who the author behind it you will never meet. Make a fish bake date with your grandparents or someone elses. Even if you don’t like fish, it’s probably a good idea to hang out for dinner with your Nan.

Also, I think it is important to understand how much fish are at risk. Fish are at pathetic populations, swimming in polluted seas.  You must also understand how farmed fish is not the answer, at least industrial chemically farmed fish. I sometimes can’t believe how people put things in their mouths without understanding the whole story behind it, or at least part of it.

These are a few great resources about fish and fishermen.

L’assassinio del mare by Michele Santoro (For those who speak Italian)

Seafood Watch 

Slow Fish

Whatever you do, just at least to try to have a 15 minute conversation about your family gastronomic heritage. Just 15 minutes.

With all of my best,

Curious Appetite

1 Comment on How to shop for good fish

  1. Tiana (@TianaKaiMiami)
    August 6, 2013 at 11:26 am (4 years ago)

    I agree, fish is not easy to buy. I always ask where it’s from and how fresh it is, but sometimes you can never tell if you are getting 100% truthful answers. There is a fishmonger in Viareggio that has known my husband’s family for 30+ years. So, I trust him and he tells us what’s the best and freshest of the day.

    Reply

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